If you’d have asked me at the beginning of the season who the most important Memphis Grizzlies player was, I’d have gone with Marc Gasol. He’s a defensive anchor, can stretch the defense on the other side of the court and doesn’t seem to react to pressure in any negative ways. Now that Mike Conley is out, my tone has certainly changed.
This isn’t meant to be a knock on Nick Calathes, because he’s filled in as well as could be expected — but he’s no Conley. Don’t forget, Conley is averaging a career-high 18 points per game to go with his 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Those quality numbers aren’t easy to replace. Add to that his shooting line of .458/.369/.841 and you can see why the Grizzlies miss him so much.
Conley has become more than just a solid point guard. He’s become a calming influence for Zach Randolph. He’ll never be confused with Tony Allen for his defensive prowess, but he’s doing a good job in winning the point guard matchups. According to 82games.com, Conley is putting up an efficiency rating of 21.2, while holding opposing point guards to 16.7.
The Grizzlies are 25-18 in games that Conley has appeared, but they are a remarkable 10-1 over his last 11 games, with a current five-game winning streak. Memphis had clawed their way back into the playoff chase after looking totally dead in the water at 15-19 back on January 7. All they’ve done is pulled themselves back to 27-23, just three games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
In last night’s 91-83 loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving torched the Grizzlies with 28 points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal. Would he have had such an easy time with Conley on the floor? I think not. Luckily, Conley’s sprained ankle was expected to keep him out a week or two. As we pass the one week mark and into the All-Star break, we should expect Conley back and healthy after the break.
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com and the Arizona Sports site HeatWaved.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.